Even amid the bleak hypocrisy that is boxing’s stock in trade, Eddie Hearn’s desperation to stand by Conor Benn, a boxer who has just failed a drug test by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency, is quite the spectacle. “There was an adverse finding on a Vada test,” the promoter said, as his man’s planned bout with Chris Eubank Jnr on Saturday night descended into chaos and shame. “There has not been an official doping violation. Conor is not suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control. Ultimately, he can’t be, as he has passed all the tests from the UK Anti-Doping Agency.”
A cute form of words, you will agree, and one which will no doubt protect the millions ploughed into this showdown between the sons of Britain’s implacable Nineties foes. But now look at what happens when it is not one of Hearn’s own fighters caught in the crossfire. In 2018, Hearn, then acting for Demetrius Andrade, could scarcely have been more outraged when the American’s scheduled opponent, Billy Joe Saunders, tested positive with Vada for the stimulant oxilofrine.
The fact that Ukad still permitted use of this substance “out of competition” was, Hearn declared, immaterial, as he endorsed the World Boxing Organisation’s decision to suspend Saunders. “What is the point of signing up for drug testing if, when you fail, everyone just goes, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, just let him fight,’” he asked, incredulously. “The argument that, ‘Well, it’s alright with Ukad’ is totally irrelevant. You’ve signed drug testing with Vada, the best testing agency, in my opinion, in the sport."
So, there you have it. When somebody else falls foul of the testers, Vada are, in Hearn’s estimation, the knights in shining armour. But when his boxer is in trouble, they are just inconvenient nuisances who can be swept aside by the lawyers. Hearn’s determination to stage Benn versus Eubank Jnr, a contrived encore to an old paternal antagonism, knows no bounds. Already, with the BBBofC refusing to sanction the fight, there is talk of Hearn seeking approval from the equivalent body in Luxembourg, the same trick that Frank Warren pulled off in 2012 to ensure that David Haye could fight the then-suspended Derek Chisora.
'The recklessness and double standards are plain for everybody to see'
It would be comical, were the stakes not so deadly serious. Long before Benn’s positive result for oxilofrine, a substance normally used to treat infertility in women but also capable of increasing testosterone in men, this was a fight that looked dangerous to the point of irresponsible. The agreed catchweight of 157lbs has forced the 33-year-old Eubank Jnr to tip the scales at his lightest since he was 18. Benn, by contrast, has had to bulk up frantically from welterweight to middleweight.
Only a ghoulish public fascination with rekindling memories of their fathers has justified this fight being made at all. Even Eubank Snr, who thought little of self-preservation in his prime, wants nothing to do with it, expressing fears last month that his son could be killed. “My son’s life cannot be put in danger,” he warned, having suffered the tragedy of Sebastian, his second child, dying of a heart attack in Dubai last year, aged just 29. “I’ve already lost one. It can’t happen again.”
This week, the elder Eubank has reiterated his concerns, urging boxing fans not to watch the fight either live or on television. But the latest revelation about Benn takes a confected enterprise into the realm of the downright grotesque. What happens if Eubank Jnr suffers brain damage on Saturday at the hands of an opponent known to have tested positive? Does this most cynical of events then become an act of criminal negligence?
The grisly truth is that this contest, if it still somehow goes ahead, is now sure to be a pay-per-view phenomenon. The greater the notoriety, the higher the buys.
Never mind the morality lectures, just look at those numbers. Except this time, the recklessness and double standards are plain for everybody to see. Nobody disputes Hearn’s tireless work ethic on his fighters’ behalf. The trouble is that the more he runs his mouth off, the more he risks his contradictions catching up with him.